Tag: work

Pink for a shovel

Friday, 26 April, 2019

Since the early 19th century, the colour pink has been used as a gender signifier.

Shovel


The Unbundling of Jobs

Wednesday, 22 August, 2018

“In the mass economy, each job used to be a bundle. With that job came money, health care, a pension, provable solvency to purchase a house and a car, the promise of stability and constant enrichment, and more. Each worker accepted a ‘bargain’: division of labour in exchange for a ‘bundle’ of benefits and security. Work wasn’t necessarily fulfilling and interesting. But the bargain made the relative alienation perfectly acceptable.”

So begins The Unbundling of Jobs and What it Means for the Future of Work by Laetitia Vitaud at Medium. She believes that the “bargain” is ending and the “bundle” is being undone, but a brighter future beckons thanks to what she calls the “digital transition” that’s happening right now. Those who “hunger for more autonomy, flexibility and purpose” will be at the forefront of adopting “new work models”, and these workers, “freelancers, in particular” will be “in a position to negotiate a new ‘bundle’, one where work comes with self-fulfillment and autonomy,” claims Vitaud.

This may be true for an elite, but those who have been unbundled and unbargained will face new overlords intent on devising ever more repressive forms of bondage. In the past, serfs would pay dues (in the form of work) to the manor in exchange for using part of the lord’s land to produce their own food. If the microserfs of the future ever get around to reading history, they’ll find the Middle Ages oddly familiar.


Work: Accompany will replace the PA/EA with a CoS

Sunday, 22 January, 2017 0 Comments

Amy Chang is betting that her app, Accompany, can replace the PA (Personal Assistant) many executives employ to manage their complicated schedules and lives. By the way, PA is undergoing a professional and linguistic update right now and the main contenders for the new title are Executive Assistant and, Amy Chang’s own favourite, Chief-of-Staff. With its hints of martial hierarchy, authority and White House glamour, Chief-of-Staff should emerge as the winner.

Back to Accompany. It’s marketing itself as an intelligent Chief of Staff and its goal is provide an automated briefing with all the information you need before you walk into a meeting. This includes relevant files, e-mail conversations with participants, details about their lives pulled from the web and up-to-date information on company performance. This is already a crowded space and Accompany will have to battle with apps such as Clara, Tempo and Charlie, but as Matthew Lynley pointed out last month in TechCrunch, Amy Chang is in the money: “Digital chief-of-staff app Accompany raises $20M and launches a UK Beta.”

Accompany


Man vs. Machine

Saturday, 21 January, 2017 0 Comments

“A good receptionist should have certain characteristics: helpful, friendly, organized. But do they need to be human?” That was the question posed in Davos, where the future of work was debated with an increasing intensity during the past few days. The elites will do fine in the robotic revolution but they could still lose their sinecures, and more, if those dispossessed of jobs and dignity rise up against their new overlords.

Michael Marczewski is a motion designer based in London and working at ManvsMachine. His “Vicious Cycle” clip, which features a group of autonomous robots performing a range of repetitive functions, is fitting for this post-Davos moment because it ponders what might happen if the demands become unbearable for the robots. The music is by Marcus Olsson, one half of Kungen & Hertigen, a sound team based in Stockholm and Eksjö. The other half is Staffan Gustafsson.


Whither work?

Thursday, 17 November, 2016 0 Comments

“It’s one of the dirty secrets of economics: technology progress does grow the economy and create wealth, but there is no economic law that says everyone will benefit.” — Erik Brynjolfsson

Who he? The Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and author of the best-selling The Second Machine Age, is he. Brynjolfsson maintains that in the race against the machine, some are likely to win while many are likely to lose. It’s a view that’s gaining traction as pessimism about the role of technology in a globalized economy increases, but Stephen DeWitt is more optimistic.

He’s held senior positions at HP, Cisco and Symantec, but instead of retiring, he became the CEO at Work Market, a rapidly-growing platform that’s reformulating the worker-employer equation. Backed by New York VC Fred Wilson, Work Market helps connect workers with companies that need to get stuff done.

The concept isn’t new. The “gig economy” of Uber and TaskRabbit is familiar to many, but DeWitt believes that this “on demand economy” will include all kinds of work eventually. Millions of people are stuck in jobs that are unnecessary and inefficient, he argues, and points out that by 2030 there will be 3.2 billion skilled workers on earth, all connected to the internet. Will a company filled with full time workers be the ideal model then? Or might the model be an agile core of managers assigning work to a network of workers competing for projects based on their skills, reputations and their ability to deliver results? That could spell the end of unnecessary and inefficient jobs. Or it might lead to a dystopia. We are approaching the crossroads and we’ll have to turn left or right.

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” — Peter Drucker

The gig economy


The eighth Station: Bibs

Tuesday, 1 December, 2015 0 Comments

As the tide of the past recedes, it carries away much of what we thought was permanent. Gone with the undertow are the “bibs”, those apron-like uniforms rural women once wore indoors and outdoors. Unlike so much of modern work clothing, numbingly alike in its drabness, the bib was colourful, floral, cheerful. So what if the work that had to be done by the wearer involved drudgery? One could still tackle it in style.

The bibs

My mother’s favourite was the crossover bib. As a young girl she had fashioned them from recycled cotton flour bags, adding an embroidered decoration here and there and finishing off with some bright ric-rac trim as a flourish. The patterns had their origins in pinafores that relatives had sent back from England and the uniquely Irish result was a wrap-around coverall titled the “bib”. The word itself has its origins in the Middle English verb bibben, meaning to drink, from the Latin bibere, either because the garment was worn while drinking or because it soaked up spills. It was definitely the latter in my mother’s case as the bib was worn when bathing children, milking cows, washing dishes and countless other tasks that involved spills and splashes.

“I’ll take off the bib,” was my mother’s declaration that something significant was about to happen. This could indicate preparation for a trip or it might involve the arrival of an important visitor. Once the visitor had departed or when the trip ended with a return to home, the bib has donned and “the jobs” began again.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Tracing.


The first Station: Work

Tuesday, 24 November, 2015 0 Comments

Look at these faces. What do you see? Life. Health. Energy. Family. Friends. Play. Work. This photo opens a door to the past and reveals a summer glimpse of a lost world. We know now how the story will end for some of the characters in this scene, but that’s hindsight. For the moment let us stay with what was captured on film when the shutter was released on that summer day.

Hay day at home

What’s going on here? The hay that was saved has been transported from the meadow and is being stored in a barn so that the livestock will have food for autumn, winter and spring. It’s an existential moment because that hay is the fuel for the engines of the enterprise: the cows. No hay, no milk; no milk, no money. No money… It’s a knife-edge moment, but there is no sign of anxiety in this image. Instead, there is acceptance. It was hoped that the hay would be saved. It was expected that it would be gathered in to the barn and it was accepted that whatever obstacles emerged along the way the cycle would repeat itself annually for the benefit of all those present and to come.

Yes, there was fatalism in this worldview, but not resignation. “‘Tis the will of God” was how misfortune was explained. There had to be a reason for setbacks, especially those that affected the most vulnerable, but it was assumed that a higher agency was involved and life went on and so did work.

For my mother, work was neither an occupation nor a career. It was an all-encompassing mission. Work secured. Work provided. Work was noble and necessary. “She’s a great worker” was the ultimate praise. “Slavery”, on the other hand, was the word used to dismiss the miserable life of the workaholic. “He’s a pure slave” is how she would describe the farmer bent over double with rheumatism after a lifetime spent in pursuit of money. It was the definitive waste of our brief time on earth.

For my mother, work was an extraordinary series of tasks that began at down and ended, often, after midnight. There was lighting the fire, milking the cows, feeding the calves, baking bread, preparing dinner, washing clothes, making tea, knitting jumpers, darning socks, planting vegetables, pruning flowers, visiting the sick, attending funerals, going to Mass, selling livestock, buying hens, painting, cooking, cleaning, shopping, caring, helping, loving, talking, thinking… This list is not exhaustive, but it is exhausting. Not that she ever used the word. “I’m tired,” she would sometimes say. “I’m exhausted”, never.

Our next station in this series of 14 photographs is Food.


Fear and loathing of the European elites

Thursday, 25 June, 2015 0 Comments

In 1904, the great German sociologist Max Weber toured the United States, doing research that would be critical for his later work, especially The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Reflecting on his conversations with American blue-collar workers, Weber pondered why they put up with corrupt political appointees rather than accepting the technocratic professionalism advocated by reformers, including Weber himself:

Whenever I sat in company with such workers and said to them: “How can you let yourselves be governed by these people who are put in office without your consent and who naturally make as much money out of their office as possible… how can you let yourselves be governed by this corrupt association that is notorious for robbing you of hundreds of millions?”, I would occasionally receive the characteristic reply which I hope I may repeat, word for word and without adornment: “That doesn’t matter, there’s enough money there to be stolen and still enough left over for others to earn something — for us too. We spit on these ‘professionals,’ these officials. We despise them. But if the offices are filled by a trained, qualified class, such as you have in your country, it will be the officials who spit on us.” That was the decisive point for these people. They feared the emergence of the type of officialdom which already exists in Europe, an exclusive status group of university-educated officials with professional training.”

Looking at the euro farce that is being acted out in Brussels these days, one would have to say that their judgement was sound.


Working with Beansprock and SAFFiR

Friday, 6 February, 2015 0 Comments

As we come to the end of our week of looking at developments in the emerging robotics/AI area, all signs indicate that the subject is moving from the technology pages to the mainstream. A sample of today’s headlines from Al Jazeera, Slate and Reuters: Hotel staffed by robots to open in Japan, Automated journalism is no longer science fiction, China to have most robots in world by 2017, an on and on and on.

Where is all this taking us? Well, take a look at Beansprock, a machine learning-based job search platform. Slogan: “Our artificial intelligence evaluates thousands of new tech jobs while you sleep and emails you only the best one.” When it knows a user’s skills, Beansprock can then predict which jobs are a match and which ones are not. The focus is on the tech industry in San Francisco, Boston and New York, and the company claims that it’s processing tens of thousands of job postings every day. Long term, the founders hope to expand the platform to include non-technical jobs.

Another example: “It’s what we call the hybrid force: humans and robots working together.” The person being quoted there by The Verge is the program manager at the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research. Thomas McKenna was speaking at the unveiling of the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR). What can it can that humans cannot? Well, it’s loaded with sensors such as infrared stereo-vision and laser light detectors, which enable it to find its target through thick smoke. The creators imagine a future where human-robot hybrid teams will work together as first responders when fires break out. This, then, is the near future. It’s a world where robotics and AI will be working for us and with us.


Robots rising

Thursday, 15 January, 2015 0 Comments

The title of Martin Ford’s new book, due out in April, is Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. Snippet:

Rise of the Robots “Artificial intelligence is already well on its way to making ‘good jobs’ obsolete: many paralegals, physicians, and even — ironically — computer programmers are poised to be replaced by robots. As technology continues to accelerate and machines begin taking care of themselves, fewer jobs will be necessary. Unless we radically reassess the fundamentals of how our economy and politics work, this transition could create massive unemployment and inequality as well as the implosion of the economy itself.”

No industry will be spared. In “precision farming,” for example, a “nurse” robot will tend to individual plants, injecting water, pesticide or fertilizer in the exact amounts required — instead of spraying an entire field. And “picking” robots are going to take over back-breaking jobs that would otherwise go to migrant workers.

Meanwhile, San Francisco startup Modbot is designing industrial and hobby robots that will piece together like Lego. Typically robots like this might cost $25,000, but the modular nature of the Modbot could reduce the price tag to $2,500. The picture is completed with a simple smartphone app that would control your robot.